THE ROTHSCHILD PRAYERBOOK, a Book of Hours, use of Rome, in Latin, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
[Ghent or Bruges, c.1505-1510]
228 x 160mm. 252 leaves, each devotion opens with a five- or six-line illuminated initial with staves of acanthus against a coloured ground, TWELVE FULL-PAGE CALENDAR BORDERS with camaïeu d'or frames with roundels illustrating major feasts, zodiac signs and full-colour miniatures of occupations of the month, FIVE SMALL MINIATURES with accompanying full-page borders, SIXTY-SEVEN FULL-PAGE ARCH-TOPPED MINIATURES WITH SURROUNDING BORDERS and complementary borders on the facing pages, two further text-pages with full borders, all the borders of richly varied trompe l'oeil type, some with sprays of acanthus and strewn flowers and including insects and vignettes, some with camaïeu d'or architectural surrounds with sculptural figures or reliefs, others with jewels and enamels against coloured grounds, individual borders replicate cloth of gold, peacock feathers, and on some pages the border space contains narratives to augment or complement the subject of the miniature. (Lacking four leaves, three with miniatures and one with a full-page border, slight pigment losses from the backgrounds of two miniatures, ff.120v and 124v, small smudge on the edge of a border on ff.1v, 2, 5v and 125, otherwise in immaculate condition.) Red velvet (renewed) with mid-16th-century silver-gilt cast and chased centrepieces with the Wittelsbach arms, cornerpieces, clasps and catches, leaf edges gilt and gauffered to a diaper pattern.
AN ACKNOWLEDGED MASTERPIECE OF RENAISSANCE MANUSCRIPT ILLUMINATION. THE LAVISH AND EXTENSIVE ILLUSTRATION OF THE ROTHSCHILD PRAYERBOOK INCLUDES MINIATURES OF UNSURPASSED BEAUTY AND REFINED EXECUTION THAT ARE THE WORK OF GERARD HORENBOUT, SIMON BENING AND HIS FATHER, ALEXANDER BENING (ALSO KNOWN AS THE MASTER OF THE OLDER PRAYERBOOK OF MAXIMILIAN I); THESE WERE THE MOST RENOWNED AND SOUGHT-AFTER ILLUMINATORS OF THEIR DAY. THE EXQUISITE MINIATURE WITH THE VIRGIN AND CHILD ON A CRESCENT MOON, IS ACCEPTED AS ONE OF A SELECT GROUP OF ILLUMINATIONS BY THE PAINTER GERARD DAVID.
1. This is an extraordinarily splendid and undoubtedly costly production yet, like related manuscripts, it contains nothing to positively identify its intended original owner : neither arms, emblems nor portrait. One component of the Rothschild Prayerbook that might reflect the wishes of a commissioning patron, are the Suffrages to Sts Vincent, Benedict, Anthony of Padua and two prayers to the Virgin (ff.239-246v); these appear to be modifications to the manuscript as originally written and planned . They are written by a different scribe from the preceding Suffrages and the Athanasian Creed that follows them and follow a layout that makes no allowance for integral miniatures, yet the miniatures that are supplied on single leaves are by the same artists as the finest in the earlier part of the manuscript. In one of them (f.238v), the stained glass windows behind St Vincent are decorated with coats of arms, including one with a displayed eagle and a shield of gules with a chevron and three small charges or.
2. ?The house of Wittelsbach: the silver-gilt centrepieces of the binding show the lion rampant of the Palatinate and the diaper of Bavaria. Nothing supports Trenkler's suggestion in the commentary to the 1979 facsimile edition that the arms are those of Herzog Ernst von Wittelsbach and that the manuscript had a later provenance in the Palatine library. The clasps, corner- and centrepieces have been attributed to the workshop or circle of the Nuremberg goldsmith Wenzel Jamnitzer (d.1585). Several of the depicted half-length saints are shown holding books with pages-edges gauffered to the same diapered pattern as survives on the present manuscript, indicating that it was not trimmed when rebound. The binding shown in two of the miniatures is red velvet with gilt cornerpieces and clasps: it may be that this was the original appearance of the book, replicated for a mid-16th-century owner or that it was in the 19th-century that this metalwork joined the manuscript.
3. ANSELM VON ROTHSCHILD (1803-1874), who laid the foundation for the Austrian Rothschilds' collections, showing a particular enthusiasm for Netherlandish painting: his purchases included works by Frans Hals, Jan Wynants, David Teniers II and Isack van Ostade. De Winter (see Bibliography) drew attention to J.H. Middleton's observation in Illuminated Manuscripts in Classical and Medieval Times (Cambridge 1892) that 'There are several fine manuscripts with miniatures by [Gerard David's] hand [...] Among these are two Books of Hours in the collection of the late Baron Anselm Rothschild of Vienna'. The two manuscripts cited by Middleton and attributed to Gerard David are likely to have been the Rothschild Prayerbook, which was no 597 in Schestag's 1872 catalogue of Anselm's art collection, and the London Hours (Add. Ms 35313) which was no 599. No 595 in the catalogue was the Bening Prayerbook for Cardinal Albrecht von Brandenburg (J. Paul Getty Museum, Ludwig IX 19) which was purchased in 1868. It is likely that the Rothschild Prayerbook was acquired shortly after this date.
4. BARON NATHANIEL VON ROTHSCHILD (1836-1905), son of Anselm. The Prayerbook was no 452, listed as in the Galerie of the palace at Theresianumgasse, in the February 1906 inventory of his estate. It was valued at 150,000 Kronen while no 453, the Brandenburg Prayerbook was valued at 80,000 Kronen.
5. BARON ALPHONSE VON ROTHSCHILD (1878-1942): he inherited Nathaniel's palace and, presumably, the manuscript along with it. It appeared in two subsequent inventories of the palace and these inventory numbers are recorded on a label at the upper corner of the lower cover (927) and in pencil (AR3390) on the front flyleaf. The manuscript remained in the palace until 1938 when it was appropriated by the Nazis.
6. Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Codex Vindobonensis Series Nova 2844 (restituted to the Rothschild family in 1999 and sold at The Collection of the Barons Nathaniel and Albert von Rothschild, Christie's London 8 July 1999, lot 102).
Calendar ff.1v-7; Prayer to the Holy Face Salve s[an]c[t]a facies ff.9r&v; Abbreviated Offices and Masses for the Days of the Week ff.10v-79: Trinity (f.11), Dead (f.23), Holy Spirit (f.33), All Saints (f.42), Sacrament (f.51 lacking opening), Holy Cross (f.60), Blessed Virgin (f.70); Gospel Extracts ff.79v-83: John (f.79v), Luke (f.80v), Matthew (f.81v), Mark (f.83); Office of the Virgin ff. 84v-140v: matins (f.85), lauds (f.100), prime (f.109), terce (f.113), sext (f.117), none (f.121), vespers (f.125), compline (f.131); Propers for the Office of the Virgin ff.135-140v; Prayers to the Virgin Obsecro te and O Intemerata ff.142-146v; Seven Penitential Psalms and Litany ff.148-163v; Office of the Dead ff.165-196v; Seven Joys of the Virgin ff.198-199; Prayer to the name of Jesus ff.200-201; Indulgenced prayers of Gregory the Great beginning O Domine ih[es]u xp[rist]e adoro te in cruce ff.202-203; Suffrages ff.204-243: to a Guardian Angel (f.204), Archangel Michael (f.205), John the Baptist (f.206), John the Evangelist (f.207), St Peter (f.208), St Paul (f.209), St James (f.210), St Andrew (f.211), St Thomas (f.212), St Matthew (f.213), St Philip (f.214), St Bartholomew (f.215), St Cornelius (f.216), St Mark (f.217), St Barnabas (f.218), St Stephen (f.219), St Lawrence (f.220), St George (f.221), St Jerome (f.222), St Anthony Abbot (f.223), St Martin of Tours (f.224), St Hubert (f.225), St Francis (f.226), St Anne with the Virgin and Child (f.227), Mary Magdalene (f.228), St Catherine (f.229), St Barbara (f.230), St Clara (f.231), St Margaret (f.232), St Elisabeth (f.233), St Helena (f.234), Susanna (f.235), St Apollonia (f.236), All Saints (f.237), St Vincent (f.239), St Anthony of Padua (f.241), St Benedict (f.243); Indulgenced prayer to the Virgin opening Ave sanctissima maria mater dei regina celi f.244; Hymn of St Bernard opening Ave maris stella dei mater alma ff.246r&v; Athanasian creed ff.247-249v
The Rothschild Prayerbook is one of the group of spectacular manuscrits-de-luxe produced around 1490 to 1520 for an international clientele and members of the Habsburg court in the Netherlands. Vast undertakings, they achieved completion -- unlike so many earlier ambitious manuscript projects -- through the efficient co-ordination of labour and the collaboration of several artists and their workshops. The Rothschild Prayerbook is the most beautiful and immediately affecting of this illustrious group and is a treasury of the work of the most gifted artists of the Flemish Renaissance.
The principal manuscripts of the group, and those most closely related to the present manuscript, are a Book of Hours in the British Library (Add. Ms 35313), the Spinola Hours (J. Paul Getty Museum, Ludwig IX 18) and the Grimani Breviary (Venice, Bibl. Marciana Ms Lat. XI). With the Rothschild Prayerbook these contain the most impressive work of the illuminator sometimes called after the portrait in a Book of Hours in Vienna (ÖNB cod.1897) the Master of James IV of Scotland, who is accepted as 'the finest illuminator of [his] generation' and is generally recognised as being the well documented Ghent artist Gerard Horenbout. Horenbout became court painter to Margaret of Austria, Regent of the Netherlands, in 1515. As well as painting and illuminating he designed tapestries and stained glass. In the 1520s he moved to England with his family and appears in the accounts of the household of Henry VIII between 1528 and 1531. For the extraordinarily opulent and extensive undertaking of the Rothschild Prayerbook Horenbout's principal collaborator was the illuminator often known as the Master of the Older Prayerbook of Maximilian I, named from a manuscript made for the emperor (Vienna, ÖNB Cod. 1907), and now widely believed to be Alexander Bening.
There is no firm evidence for the original, intended owner of any of the above-mentioned manuscripts, although it has been suggested that the Spinola Hours were made for Margaret of Austria herself. It is likely that the Rothschild Prayerbook antedates Horenbout's entry into Margaret's household, but the quality of his work in this manuscript is unsurpassed, and it was no doubt on the basis of her knowledge of his ravishing accomplishment that Margaret appointed him to her court.
Some of Horenbout's most remarkable creations are in the first sequence of devotions in the manuscript, the Abbreviated Hours and Masses for the days of the week (ff.10v-79). These called for a resourceful iconographic expansion and Horenbout's solution was to provide a unique series of liturgical images, showing a moment from the celebration of the Mass for each specific Feast. These scenes are thoughtfully and individually devised and provide a fascinating record of contemporary liturgical practice and setting; beyond that, they are some of the finest and most remarkable of all Flemish miniatures. The description of the fabrics of the vestments, the integration of figures in architectural space, and the extensive and atmospheric recession are evoked with a detailed delicacy and a bravura naturalism.
Although Horenbout was responsible for the most prominent and important miniatures in the manuscript -- including the openings of the Offices of the Virgin and of the Dead -- Alexander Bening, the Master of the Older Prayerbook of Maximilian, played an equally vital role. Designs that can be particularly associated with him and his contribution to other manuscripts lie behind a proportion of the secondary miniatures, especially in the Suffrages, and in borders with figural inclusions. Many of the latter derive from lively inventions first seen in manuscripts by the most innovative illuminator of the previous generation, the Vienna Master of Mary of Burgundy, for example in the margins of the Hours of Engelbert of Nassau (Oxford, Bodleian Library Douce 219-220), usually dated to the 1480s. It is back to this same source that the idea behind the design of two of the most striking borders in the Prayerbook can be traced: the peacock feathers (f.225v) and the skulls (f.164v). Alexander Bening is regarded as the most productive pupil of the Vienna Master of Mary of Burgundy, and he was one of the earliest to use the type of trompe l'oeil border that is so beautifully exemplified in the present manuscript, where naturalistic flowers lie as if strewn and casting shadows on the surface of the page.
Horenbout played a minor role in the Hours of James IV of Scotland, he provided the portrait of the king, while Alexander Bening and his workshop were responsible for most of the illumination. The borders are replicas of many in the Rothschild Prayerbook and it seems unlikely that the manuscripts should be dated very far apart. The Hours of James IV are usually thought to have been illuminated around the time of his marriage in 1503.
Numerous manuscripts have been attributed to Alexander Bening, and the miniatures they contain vary in quality and handling. The Rothschild Prayerbook, however, contains some of the most elegant and refined work in this style, for example the Virgin and Child with Angels (f.69v), the Evangelist (f.206v), Susannah and the Elders (f.234v), and St Jerome (f.221v) and are comparable to the London Hours of William Lord Hastings (BL Add. Ms 54782), the manuscript that has been described as the masterpiece of the Older Prayerbook Master and a seminal work of the late Flemish tradition.
It is the correspondence between the discernable career and influence of the Older Prayerbook Master and the documented life of the illuminator Alexander (or Sanders) Bening that led to the suggestion that they are one and the same. This view has gained wide acceptance displacing earlier 'identifications'. Alexander Bening, a friend of Hugo van der Goes and Justus of Ghent, joined the guild in Ghent in 1469 and died there in 1519. His identification is supported by the close integration in this manuscript of his work with that of his son Simon (c.1483-1561). The most remarkable of Simon's miniatures, and with the most individual framing in the book, is the Vision of St Bernard (f.245v). The subtlety of handling in the modelling of flesh, and the description of fabric and form demonstrate why Simon Bening went on to become the most celebrated illuminator of his day.
Another of Simon's contributions to the Prayerbook, the Miracle of the Ass and St Anthony of Padua (f.240v), is a version of the miniature provided by his father for the Breviary of Eleanor of Portugal (The Morgan Library & Museum, Ms M.52), the design of which was taken up and reversed by Gerard David for his painting in the Museum of Art in Toledo, Ohio.
Gerard David's own activity as an illuminator has recently been more widely delineated and one image in the Prayerbook -- an image of breath-taking beauty -- has been accepted as by the Bruges Master. The Virgin and Child on a Crescent Moon (f.197v), which introduces the Joys of the Virgin, is treated in a quite different manner from the other miniatures. It is presented as an independent icon; within a narrow pearl-studded frame the three-quarter-length figure is isolated against a golden radiance, two small angels holding the crown of the Queen of Heaven above her head. The drapery and figure style suggest that the composition was drawn by the Older Prayerbook Master, and the angels may also have been painted by him. But the young mother and her infant son are portrayed with an unsurpassed delicacy and an artistry that manages to convey their feelings and relationship as well as their appearance. It is as much the investment of this sensibility as the touching charm of the pair that marks out this miniature as the work of David, and makes it comparable with his Virgin among Virgins in New York (The Morgan Library & Museum M. 659). The similarity to the Morgan leaf in the form and handling of the St Catherine and St Clara (ff.228v & 230v), albeit less polished and precise than the Virgin and Child, suggests that these two should also be considered as the work of the Bruges painter. They are closely comparable to the St Catherine and St Elizabeth given to David in the Mayer van der Bergh Breviary.
One more illuminator whose style is immediately recognisable contributed several miniatures for the Hours of the Days of the Week and some of the scenes concerning the infancy of Christ that illustrate the Office of the Virgin. In spite of being known as the Master of the Prayerbooks of c.1500 after a Book of Hours in Vienna (ÖNB, Cod. 1862), this artist is best known for his work in delightful secular manuscripts, above all the Roman de la Rose in the British Library (Harley Ms 4425). The intimate integration of his work with that of Alexander Bening is most engagingly evident on the opening of prime in the Office of the Virgin (ff.108v/109) where his miniature of the Nativity is bordered by other episodes from the biblical narrative and faces the lively scene showing the shepherds' joyful dancing response to the angels' announcement of Christ's birth.
The intermingling of contributions by more than one illuminator to a page, or even to a miniature, raises questions about the organisation and location of production, and suggests the close physical proximity of the collaborating painters. It also makes a vexed question of the attribution of some folios; nowhere more so than in the Suffrages. In this section of the manuscript where the miniatures are integral with the text, and most bifolia carry two illustrations, the collaboration or successive involvement of different artists is at its most intimate and confusing. A number of the compositions are recognisably from the repertoire of Alexander Bening, for example St Peter (f.207v), St Stephen (f.218v) and St Anthony Abbot (f.222v), but the technique, palette, and accomplishment differ from one miniature to another and only St Anthony seems painted by Alexander himself. His work is evident in several other Suffrage miniatures, being most clearly recognisable in the full-length figures, but the remainder appear to be painted by other hands: often even two miniatures on a single bifolium appear to have been painted by different artists. Scholarly opinion over authorship has varied and the names of different illuminators have been invoked in connection with some of these miniatures: Gerard David, Gerard Horenbout and Simon Bening among them. One thing remains beyond dispute: they are of an extraordinary high quality.
Several of the most arresting -- usually based upon a design, if not a drawing, from Alexander Bening -- can be grouped around the miniature of St Stephen (f.218v). These half-length figures convey an impression of concerned preoccupation, are solidly three-dimensional -- their bodies and the drapery clothing them described with weight and volume -- and the texture and sheen of fabrics are realistically evoked, backgrounds are often detailed and deeply recessive. This vivid realism and attention across the painted field are characteristic of Gerard Horenbout and these miniatures seem to be painted by him on designs associated with Alexander Bening. Two of this group are particularly instructive of Horenbout's approach: St Lawrence (219v) and St Vincent (238v) are clearly based on the same pattern, even to drapery folds and a wart on the cheek, yet the setting is an entirely fresh invention fitting for each saint.
Another exceptionally fine group of half-length figures, but these with a broader yet precise treatment of flesh and drapery include St Peter (f.207v), St Paul (f.208v) and St James (f.209v), with female saints painted in this manner including the Magdalene (f. 227v) and St Helena (f.233v). These are highly finished and polished miniatures where the contemplative saint stands, eyes usually downcast, in suitably urban or rural settings. These are surely the work of the young Simon Bening but, once again, painted on designs associable with his father. The poetic and distant vista, appropriately placed behind James, the pilgrim saint, foretells Simon's accomplishment as a landscape painter and his eventual reputation as the 'greatest master of illumination in all of Europe'.
ALL ASPECTS OF THIS BOOK OF HOURS -- FROM THE QUALITY OF THE PARCHMENT TO THE WEALTH AND REFINEMENT OF THE DECORATION -- PLACE IT AMONG THE MOST PRESTIGIOUS AND EXQUISITE EXAMPLES OF FLEMISH MANUSCRIPT ILLUMINATION, AND THE FINEST TO REMAIN IN PRIVATE HANDS.
F. Schestag, Katalog der Kunstsammlung des Freiherrn Anselm von Rothschild in Wien (Vienna 1872)
Rothschild Gebetbuch: vollständige Faksimile-Ausgabe im Originalformat des Codex Vindobonensis Series nova 2844 der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek. Codices Selecti LXVII (Graz, 1979), 2 vols, commentary by E. Trenkler
P. de Winter, 'A Book of Hours of Queen Isabel la Catolica', The Bulletin of The Cleveland Museum of Art, LXVII (1981), pp.342-427
J.M. Plotzek, Die Handschriften der Sammlung Ludwig (Cologne 1982), ii, pp.256-285
T. Kren, Renaissance Painting in Manuscripts: Treasures from the British Library, (1983), pp.63-68
F. Unterkircher, Das Rothschild-Gebetbuch: die schönsten Miniaturen eines flämischen Stundenbuches (Graz 1984)
F. Unterkircher, Das Stundenbuch des Mittelalters (Graz 1985)
D. Thoss, Flämische Buchmalerei: Handschriftenschätze aus dem Burgunderreich, (Graz 1987)
B. Brinkmann, Die Flämische Buchmalerei am Ende des Burgunderreichs: Die Meister des Dresdener Gebetbuchs und die Miniaturen seiner Zeit (Turnhout 1997)
M. Smeyers, L'Art de la Miniature flamand du viiie au xvie siècle (Tournai 1998)
M. W. Ainsworth, Gerard David: Purity of Vision in an Age of Transition (New York 1998)
Illuminating the Renaissance: the Triumph of Flemish Manuscript Painting in Europe, eds T. Kren and S. McKendrick, 2003, catalogue of the exhibition at J.Paul Getty Museum and Royal Academy of Arts 2003-2004
B. Dekeyzer, Layers of Illusion, the Mayer van der Bergh Breviary (Ghent/Amsterdam 2004)
M. W. Ainsworth, 'Diverse Patterns Pertaining to the Crafts of Painters or Illuminators, Gerard David and the Bening Workshop', Master Drawings, 41 (2003), pp.240-265
C. de Hamel, The Rothschilds and their collections of illuminated manuscripts (London 2005)
G. Clark, Das Da Costa Stundenbuch, Commentary/Kommentar (Graz 2010)
M. Krieger, Gerard Horenbout und der Meister Jacobs IV. von Schottland, stilkritische Überlegungen zur flämische Buchmalerei (Vienna 2012)